Anoka County history: Ole Griep unforgettable volunteer

Most of my teaching career was spent as a substitute teacher in both ISD 11 and ISD 15.

Substituting is a unique opportunity to learn many things about many subjects and to meet many people.

Among the most unforgettable of these people was Ole Griep who volunteered many hours, days, and years as a “Grandpa,” first at Bar-None and then at Crossroads Alternative School in St. Francis.

Ole is gone now, but I had a chance to interview him for a history column that was originally published in the Community Courier (St. Francis) in 1997.

After devoting all four of my columns last February to Bar-None Boys’ Ranch at which place Ole started his career as a foster grandparent, I’d like to follow-up with my story about this amazing, compassionate, dedicated man,.

On the lawn outside a white frame farmhouse hangs a sign identifying it as a Century Farm.

Inside this house Hugo “Ole” Griep slept all his life in the same bedroom he was born in on July 19, 1911. Located near Crown in Isanti County, the farm has been in the possession of the Griep family for well over 100 years.

Ole’s parents, Herman and Sophia Hartfiel Griep, had a large family — 10 boys and four girls. Their firstborn died in infancy, and two boys succumbed within hours of each other during a scarlet fever epidemic in 1921.

Ole, the 10th born, was the last survivor of that large family. Ole said he was christened “Hugo,” but claims he was really named after the family’s ox, “Ole.”

Ole’s grandfather, Frederick Griep, left his native Germany in the mid 1800s to avoid conscription into the army.

He and his wife settled in Minneapolis, on 38th Avenue South which was then considered to be one of the outlying regions of the city. Minnehaha Falls served as a playground for their nine children, five boys and four girls.

Frederick Griep dabbled in real estate. Around 1880 he loaned $250 to a man for homesteading 200 acres of land in Isanti County.

When the man died in 1889 his 200 acres were sold at the sheriff’s sale. Frederick made the only bid, $250, and bought the farm — house, log barn, and all.

Having no interest in living on the property himself, Frederick sent his five sons to farm the land.

The four older boys loaded up wagons with provisions bought in Minneapolis and drove to the farm in Isanti County.

The youngest son, Herman, who was 14 at the time, was given the responsibility of accompanying the cows which were being shipped by rail in a rented railroad car from Minneapolis. Herman had been instructed to stop at Zimmerman to water the animals.

When he arrived at this one-horse watering hole there was no way to get the cows off the railroad car which had been shifted to a siding, so he set about building a ramp.

With the cows watered, the entourage resumed its journey by foot and hoof to their new home near present-day Crown.

The Griep brothers moved into the farm house and set to work with a will and a sense of adventure.

Oxen were used to plow the fields, and hay was cut by hand.

Soon the Griep sisters joined their brothers, but Ole’s’ grandparents never left Minneapolis. For better or for worse, Frederick’s children were on their own.

Ole said the young people — his aunts and uncles — had a pretty good time out there on the farm. They worked hard but also played some pretty good jokes on each other and the hired help.

For years afterward they would sit around telling “remember when” stories while husking corn.

A favorite was about the time one of his aunts mixed gunpowder in with the hired man’s pipe tobacco while he was having lunch.

The hired man thought the tobacco tasted funny as he walked back to the haying meadow, puffing away on his doctored-up pipe.

About halfway there he realized why. The blast blew the top right off his pipe! Ole said they laughed over that story for years.

To be continued next week.

Editor’s note: June Anderson is a member of the Anoka County Historical Society and a volunteer guide for their Ghost Tours of Anoka.

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